reprinted from The Daily Times, Sunday, January 12, 1992, written by Mary E. Humphreys
Editor’s Note: The following is part of a continuing series on Worcester County history, being published in conjunction with the county’s 250th anniversary.
John Postly continues to touch the lives of Worcester youths
An early benefactor of the underprivileged in Worcester County who touches the lives of Worcester County youngsters today was John Postly – planter, soldier, churchman and finally, philanthropist. The Postly Fund, as it is known today, funds the “Old Home Prize” for outstanding high school seniors in Worcester County. The fund, however, has roots that are more than 150 years old.
On April 12, 1815 “Being in tolerable health of body” Col. John Postly wrote his will. Two months later this planter of northern Worcester County died and by Sept. 15 the inventory of his estate had been filed in the court records at Snow Hill on 32 pages so small that they can rest easily in the palm of a hand.
Assuming that every item listed was used on Postly’s acreage, they offer a glimpse of rural life at that time.
There were brass button “moulds,” flax seed and “skutched” flax, long hooks and barking iron, a loom, indigo dye tubs and soap, cooper’s adds, sides of sole leather, a beehive, cypress shingles, plus the usual household items, farming implements and domestic animals, including oxen. The corn crop in the ground was the most valuable item – it was listed at $450.
Postly, sometimes with his wife Ann, was involved in more than a dozen land transactions from 1770 to 1809 and more than 800 acres were sold in those years.
In the records for the period 1763 to 1771 John Postly’s name is found in the Abstracts of Inventories (of deceased Worcester Countians) of the Prerogative Court of Maryland as a creditor 16 times.
During the Revolutionary War, Postly served with the Synepuxent Battalion, which was formed of part-time civilian soldiers. He rose from captain in August of 1777 to major three years later and finally to the highest ranking staff member – colonel – in June 1782.
Records show that John Postly served as an elder with two ministers at Buckingham Presbyterian Church. During the Rev. John Rankin’s tenure (1775-1798) a brick edifice replacing a frame structure was erected in 1784. Less than 100 years later the brick structure was demolished in a snowstorm. In July 1790 Postly served on a committee to “wait upon Penewell to give him an answer respecting the finishing of Buckingham Church.” In the 1790s pew rental lists show him paying four pounds yearly rent for pew number 24. In 1797 the session appointed a committee to collect Rankin’s salary to be paid to Postly as treasurer. In the previous decade “as corn is the prevailing article in this place” (valued at one-half crown a bushel), sometimes Rankin was paid in corn.
In 1801 repairs to the church were still being undertaken and subscribers may have been slow in paying their pledges. The 12 elders decided to fine latecomers “one-half a dollar, the money to go to repairs of meeting house.”
The first Federal census of 1790 lists 14 slaves belonging to Postly. Twenty years later there were but seven. In his will Postly considered the future of his free and indentured servants. Job, Jacob, Charles and Rose were already free. To Job and Jacob he left the “use and occupancy” until 1821 of three fields, timber and houses, with instructions to “clear no more ground,” “be sparing of wood” and “to plant corn but every third year.”
To the free Charles and his wife, Comfort, Postly bequeathed his “manner house,” and fields, again with similar instructions about the use of timber and the planting of corn. Also to Charles and Comfort he left the use of the indentured servants “girl Rachel and boy Tom” – she to be treated “with humanity” and Tom to be treated with “good usage by finding Sufficient Diet and Clothing.” Both Charles and Tom had the right to refuse Postly’s request. Comfort’s future was provided for in the event of Charles’ death. At the conclusion of the period of indenture (1821) if Charles were living he was to have his choice of horses, cows, sheep and pigs, as well as a gift of his “shoe bench, tool and lasts.”
“Boy Henry’s” services Postly gave to the young boy’s own mother, Rose, who was manumitted when Henry was born. She was enjoined to have “him learned to read the Testament” and “bring him up to Industry and Morallity.”
All of his land, more than 300 acres, mainly in the tracts “Wheel of Fortune” and “Red Land Addition,” (patented in 1774 and located between Berlin and St. Martin) he bequeathed to John Postly Cummins, a child reared by the Postlys after his mother’s death in 1806 until Ann Postly’s death in 1812. This bequest was contingent upon young John reaching age 21.
After other bequests, Postly directed that the remainder of his estate be sold at public sale and the final proceeds be put to interest or otherwise put to use for the “Benefitt of and to be applied toward the necessities or Education of poor necessitous young people in the bounds of Buckingham and Worcester Hundreds in Worcester County.”
The total sale of the personal property was $3,861.41. This sum became the starter for the Postly Fund for education mentioned earlier.
Littleton P. Bowen of Berlin was a beneficiary in the 1800s and he ensured that the final resting place of John and Ann Postly would not be lost and forgotten. In 1909, due to Bowen’s efforts, a large granite marker was erected marking the gravesite of this philanthropist of Worcester. The marker can be seen in a cornfield (1991) at the right of eastbound Route 50 at the first intersection with Route 346, just west of Berlin.
The inscription reads:
“Blessed is He That Considereth the Poor.” PS 41:1
“John Postly and wife. He died 1815. Elder in Buckingham Church. Giver of the Postly Fund for educating needy students.
“All honor to the man, kind, beneficent, the lives by him inspired his noblest monument.”
Mary E. Humphreys of Berlin retired as a professor of botany from Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va. in 1968. [At the time of this article] Humphreys is a volunteer at the Snow Hill Branch of the Worcester County Library where she is working with a collection of papers belonging to Zadok P. Henry, an early landowner of Worcester. She is a founding trustee of the Berlin Heritage Foundation.